Multimillion dollar advertising campaigns, endorsements by consumer groups and consumer publications, as well features on television and in print are all effective ways to increase sales. Yet despite these massive campaigns and prestigious endorsements, sales increase at the individual level, one purchase at a time. And the single best way any salesperson can increase sales is through the "word of mouth" of satisfied clients.
Consider the phenomenal and unpredictable success of the independent film, "The Blair Witch Project." Percentage wise, it's already the most profitable movie in U.S. history with more than $100 million in sales despite costing less than $60,000 to make and $2 million to distribute.
Although nearly $15 million has now been spent on advertising, the height of interest in the film peaked prior to the current advertising blitz. The film was initially released only in select cities with little or no advertising yet word of mouth, person by person, generated the resulting furor.
Following are several ways individual testimonials and references (word of mouth) can help increase your sales.
- Case studies.
Regardless of what you're selling, there's a core group of needs that your product/service fills. So it logically follows that if a company uses your product/service to fill a need, similar type companies would also benefit from using it, too. And case studies very effectively demonstrate the benefits.
When a prospect reveals a specific need but asks, "How do I know your product/service will fill it?," you'll more successfully answer the question by sharing a specific example of how your product/service has solved this problem for a client than by spewing features and benefits.
In sharing the example, you ease your prospects fear, uncertainties and doubts. You help him/her realize that his/her needs and challenges aren't in a vacuum, that they're shared by others. And after hearing the example and seeing the real-world application of your product/service, in their mind, it increases the likelihood of expecting the same. Consequently, you've moved closer to making the sale
It's estimated that it costs a company four to five times as much to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing customer. But existing customers can only use so much of your product/service. Most salespeople need to regularly prospect for new business. And it's also estimated that most salespeople only spend 50 percent of their time in face-to-face selling. With this being the case, why not sell to the most qualified prospects as possible? And one of the best sources of qualified prospects is through the leads given by satisfied clients.
Referrals are typically more qualified prospects than random prospects. The referee often has a personal or business relationship with the person and can provide important information such as specific challenges faced, needs and personal background. They may also be able to let you know the decision making process at the prospect company, timing issues and potential budget. But remember this information isn't your entitlement; don't push for it.
What's more, most people ask their friends and associates for opinions before making purchases. People are usually more open and candid with those with whom they have a relationship. So when a prospect speaks to the person who referred you to them, they'll likely be much more revealing. And when your customer shares their positive experience with the prospect, they're heightening the credibility of both you and your product/service, moving you closer to the sale.
- Third-party endorsement.
Besides an example of the real world application of your product/service, the main reason testimonials are the single most effective business builder is by their nature: They're a third-party endorsement.
If I say something, it's opinion. When my customer says the same thing, it's fact. None of your current customers were "born" your customer. At some point they were in the same position as your current prospects, experiencing fears, uncertainties or doubts before choosing to use your product/service. The third-party status of your clients builds a level of credibility that can't be reached by your words alone.
- Printed testimonials.
Testimonials should also play a large part in your advertising, marketing and soliciting efforts.
In advertisements, it's important that you include results statements from satisfied clients. In traditional marketing such as sales letters, it's important to create credibility through the inclusion of results statements or specific case studies. And when sending your information package, be sure to include full testimonial letters received from satisfied clients.
It's important to use specific, quantitative testimonials as much as possible. For example, "After completing your training program I increased sales 25 percent" is much more effective and credible than, "Your training program was the best I've ever completed." The specific example generates greater interest in your product/service and helps reassure the prospect of receiving similar results.
Become diligent in the use of using specific, quantitative case studies and testimonials to increase sales. You'll be implementing the single biggest key all successful grass roots campaigns: word of mouth.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.